That’s the world record. 5.53 seconds. At my very best, I could do it in under 30 and that’s when I was in junior high. Today, I’m lucky to solve a Rubik’s Cube in 30 minutes let alone 30 seconds. But the world record holder came in five times faster than me at under six seconds. There’s a great documentary on Netflix called The Speed Cubers. It’s a wonderful story about two of the best competitors out there – Felix Zemdigs, the world record holder in the 3×3 and one of the nicest guys you’ll meet and Max Park, au autistic savant from my hometown of Cerritos, CA who holds the records in the 4×4, 5×5, 6×6, 7×7, and one-handed categories. Yes, one-handed. 9.42 seconds. Behind it all is a very touching story about two friends from different backgrounds who bonded over speed cubing, but what amazed me is the speed at which they can solve this complex puzzle that for most of us is confusing just to look at. There were hundreds of competitors from around the world and they were solving cubes one-handed, with only their feet, BLINDFOLDED, it was dazzling. Max’ dad made a comment that stuck with me as we talk about Wesley’s Third Rule. He said most cubers top out in their 20’s because life gets in the way. The best of them are constantly solving the cube. Every free moment they are working their cube and trying to get faster and faster. It trains their mind to instantly recognize patterns and solutions. And as they get older, other things start to take priority like jobs and relationships and they simply have less time to devote to cubing. Part of being so good at solving the cube is talent, but the other part is practice.
Practice makes perfect.
That philosophy holds true no matter what you’re trying to do. Whether it’s the Rubik’s Cube or chemistry or basketball or playing music you need to practice over and over to improve on your skills. Talent alone only gets you so far. Practice is what takes you over the top. And the same is true for our faith. Practice makes perfect. In our passage this morning, Paul was writing to the church because he was worried they might drift away from their faith. Someone could come along and convince them to turn away from Christ. Not that hard to believe considering the stories they already knew from their own history (like Aaron building the idol when Moses went on the mountaintop to pray). Christianity was in its infancy and they were still trying to figure everything out. False prophets were likely everywhere and it would have been especially hard for Paul to guide them from far away. They didn’t have things like ZOOM worship to rely upon, so Paul wrote this letter to encourage them and to offer them a way to stay grounded in their faith. This is what he shares with the church in our passage this morning.
6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
The Word of God for the people of God and the people said, “Thanks be to God.” Please be seated.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe how little we’ve changed.
Human beings that is. Paul had to battle the same concerns we do today and this topic is no different. He was worried people would drift away from Jesus and his teachings. That they would be “wowed” by something more appealing, something that fit their lifestyle better and would abandon everything they were taught. Again, not hard to believe considering we still do this today. We gravitate toward whatever new trend or philosophy lets us do what we want regardless of whether or not we should do it. Human beings love to find ways to beat the system. Kind of like me and the Weight Watchers Fat and Fiber Plan. I was following the traditional Weight Watchers plan for a long time and doing pretty well, when they suddenly offered this new Fat and Fiber Plan that said you could eat whatever you want as long as you stayed below a certain amount of fat per day and above a certain amount of fiber. I could eat half a bag of Snackwell cookies (which still had tons of sugar and carbs and processed ingredients) and as long as I had a bowl of refried beans (super high in fiber), I was good for the day. Seriously. That’s what I did. Even though in my head I KNEW this was too good to be true, I was like, “Trust in the experts.” Especially when it let me eat as many cookies as I wanted. Sure enough, even though I stayed faithful to the plan, I GAINED a ton of weight. Who would have guessed that any eating plan that includes eating half a bag of cookies daily might not be good for you?
Paul had to deal with this basic human frailty.
Finding ways to beat the system. Looking for loopholes instead of long-term benefits. Paul wasn’t there to help them in person, to guide them and remind them on a regular basis, so instead he did the only thing he could do. He encouraged them to remember the teachings, to be “rooted” in Christ, to build each other up and strengthen each other’s faith, to remind one another of the truths they had been taught and believed. In essence Paul was trying to teach them to “stay in love with God,” Wesley’s Third Rule. Do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God. For John Wesley, who taught these three rules as the foundation of Methodism, staying in love with God was vital to our faith. If “do no harm” is preventative and “do good” is proactive, then “staying in love with God” requires practice. Like Paul, John Wesley taught this same basic principle. To draw closer to Christ and to maintain your faith, John told those who became part of the Methodist societies they needed to regularly attend to all the ordinances of God. By that he meant they needed to do those everyday things, those regular things, over and over again to infuse God into their lives. That when God became an integral part of who we are, our faith would have a firm foundation. Wesley told them they needed to pray. They needed to read their Bibles. They needed to be in small groups together. They needed to take communion. They needed to go to worship. It’s those everyday routines Wesley felt were most important to keep us connected to God and to one another, and Paul in this passage stresses the same thing. Paul encourages the church to “continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
Science backs them up.
Their assumption that maintaining these patterns of behavior would help to make God a part of our everyday lives is true. In different studies, it has been shown that through consistency and repetition over a period of time we can form new ways of doing things. But it takes time. You may have heard that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, but the truth is it takes much longer. Studies show it takes an average of 66 days. 66 days and that’s just an average. It can take as long as 8 or 9 months. But it can be done. If you want to get in the habit of relying on God, if you want to learn to put your faith and trust in him, you have to make God a part of your everyday life. Things like praying and reading the Bible and going to worship need to be more than a chore but a way of life that you embrace and then it will take hold in you in a deep and meaningful way. And once you have this foundation at your core, you will be open to an even deeper relationship with God. One that opens you up to that “peace that passes all understanding” Paul promises we can have. Staying in love with God, or as Wesley put it, “attending to all the ordinances of God,” takes time but the investment is well worth it.
When I first started praying with others, I hated it.
Not because I didn’t think it was important and not because I didn’t think it was helpful. But because I felt so inadequate about it. It seemed everyone I knew could pray better than I could. But after my Walk to Emmaus, I joined a Day Four group and we’d meet once a week and took turns praying for each other. They were SO eloquent with their prayers. Thoughtful. Not the kind where they just repeat the word “Lord” 40 times in one sentence, but from the heart, sincere, deep prayer. By comparison, I felt my prayers were more along the lines of “God is great, God is good, thank you God for this food.” But they encouraged me regularly and gave me confidence as I kept working on it. And as I kept it up, I felt more comfortable. I was less self-conscious. I worried less about doing a “good” prayer and came to realize it’s not about how fancy my words were or how articulate I was or whether or not I repeated myself a dozen times. It was all about my heart for the Lord. That’s all God really cares about. And at least in that, I am confident. To do anything well takes practice. Like with the Rubik’s Cube, the more we work at it, the better we will be. In our marriages, in our work, as parents – even in our faith. Practice makes perfect. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.